Category Archives: Schoolday Doings

Tales of a Fourth-Grade Compulsive List Maker, Parts One and Two

I used to be a planner.

An only child with a genius complex and a flair for solitude, I spent the time normal children used for things like fun and play filling notebooks with schemes for clubs, small businesses, and theatrical presentations that were fully realized only in my mind. One of my most detailed plans was a step-by-step DIY manual for becoming popular in 8th grade. Only now is the irony of feverishly writing in notebooks as a springboard to the homecoming court clear to me.

Of course the joke was on those fun-havers when my incredible devotion to organizing the future led to academic awards, PhDs, and any number of leadership posts for groups and institutions who seemed to share the secret motto: “Blah Blah Blah, is it time for donuts yet?”

No matter—efficiency and a smug sense of superiority are their own rewards.

Doing it all with my trusty Franklin Planner, 2 coffee mugs, a diet coke, and lots of post-it notes.

I dare say I was at the height of my powers when we decided to homeschool. Leading a large urban parish through a strategic planning process, managing the publication of several reference volumes each year, coordinating multiple subcontractors, and planning fundraisers were all tasks easily managed with a toddler on my knee and a 1st grader off to school. My trusty Franklin Planner and I could do it all.

The year was 2006 when that started to change. “How do you do it all?” people asked. “I don’t,” I would say. “I am dropping balls left and right.” Slowly I extricated myself from my many posts and activities. The homeschool world, naturally, gave me plenty of volunteer and leadership roles to substitute for my former life, but over the years I let those go as well.

This has caused me great consternation over the last several years. “When will I get it together? Where did that planner-toting powerhouse go and when will she come back?” I can only hope, at this point, that she’s gone on to a better place.

The truth is, she wouldn’t help us much now. My girls are 13 and 9, and after almost 7 years of homeschooling I can verify: you can plan your curriculum, but you can’t plan learning, and you really can’t plan life. When children are 7 and 3, every outing to the beach is a grand adventure and every sprinkle of the glitter jar is an expression of creativity. My 13 year old, however, has been doing high school work for almost 4 years now. The fairies she’s been drawing over the last 10 years have evolved: sometimes they are busty creatures with embarrassingly short skirts, other times they look like they’ve just stepped out of a bar brawl.

Just a few years ago I would have been allowed to share a fairy drawing here.

This was not my plan, and increasingly it’s not my life. I can’t organize her into a notebook any more than I could scribble my way to a prom date.

If I hadn’t learned this lesson, our attempts to “start school” this fall really drove it through my head. Violet is on track to take 2 AP exams and possibly a SAT subject test this spring—because she’s done high school work so young I feel we need some external credentials— so we needed to get started early so she’d be ready in May. Victoria has been eagerly anticipating starting an Online G3 class since last spring. But there were the houseguests to play with. And a trip to the state fair. And a lot of Doctor Who to catch up on before the season premiere. And suddenly now there is a Japanese class online. Oh, and someone, maybe several someones, turned out to have whooping cough. By the time we got to that last wrinkle, I was starting to feel a lot less irresponsible for not having the year planned. Having dinner planned was victory enough for one day.

When Homeschooling Was Adorable

As a writer I’ve never planned. When outlines were assigned I did them after the paper was finished, and no teacher was the wiser. (Actually, that was a great learning process for me and I still recommend it.) I think I’ll be approaching the second half of our homeschooling years the same way. We’ll do it, and then I’ll write it down. . I’ve been inspired by semi-recent discussion of the dearth of homeschooling-high-school blogs to get back to blogging—it was a great way to connect with kindred spirits in the beginning, and though so much as has changed it may still be a good way to encourage each other to the finish line, whatever that may be.

Because so much has changed, I’m changing blogs. Which is probably a terrible mistake, but being a “successful” blogger has never been a big goal of mine. Red Sea School was so much about starting the adventure of homeschooling, finding our feet in the PG world, and raising two little girls. I don’t feel I can wrestle it into where we are now. I named the new blog “What Real World?” because it’s a question that has come up regularly in our lives: “What use is art/music/literature in the real world?” “When will you go back to work and join the real world?” “Why do you prefer a god-in-the-clouds to the real world?” and of course “How will your homeschooled children ever adjust to living in the real world?”

The Inescapable Reality of the Now

To that last question: I honestly don’t know. But I’ll try to write bits of it down as we find out.

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Filed under Our Philosophy (such as it is), Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?

You Are Your Child’s First Teacher–But If She’s Lucky, She’ll Have Lots More

Side note: wow, it’s been a while. So I guess that’s what a little walking pneumonia does to your hobbies.

Here we are in what would be the 7th- and 3rd-grade years of the girls homeschooled lives. Violet (the 7th grader) is at this point pretty fully a high schooler, academically, and our schedule shows it. Between her usual desire to do EVERYTHING and the higher level of both input and output expected, she’s having to step up her game. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, but I’m pretty proud of how she’s making her best effort much of the time.

One thing newbie homeschoolers are frequently asked is: “What will you do when they need to study algebra/physics/some other thing you are obviously too stupid to understand yourself?” We heard this question first when our daughter was six; though she was indeed profoundly gifted, it was hard not to be insulted by the assumption behind the question. It seemed likely that we had a while to worry about that stuff.

The time has come, however: she’s surpassed what I can do without a few extra hours of study in my nonexistent spare time. Algebra is long behind her (she taught herself, and I was able to be reasonably useful through a good chunk of algebra II,.) She insisted on studying both chemistry *and* physics this year, largely because folks in our homeschool community have organized such fantastic opportunities that she couldn’t turn either one down.

I couldn’t be happier. Her chemistry class is run by a young man who supervises the labs at some local community colleges. He clearly loves what he is doing, and he also does a great job of getting the students to think about science as problem solving and not merely memorizing a lot of terminology and facts. Learning to do high quality lab reports may be some of the toughest writing she’s ever done, and from what I’ve heard the standards are pretty high.

Her physics teacher is a theoretical physicist who works in the research division of a multinational corporation; once a week, he meets with my daughter and two other kids to help them through Kinetic Books Principles of Physics, in addition to assigning and grading homework and coming up with some cool short- and long-term projects to try. For their chapter on vectors he brought them each a pirate map and assigned to figure out . . . well, a lot of stuff I am *not* too stupid to understand, but too busy. (Right? Right.)

Their teacher is having fun: he’s got three incredibly enthusiastic students who can’t wait to come talk physics with him. The kids are having fun: they get to learn at the high school level from someone who loves his field, and then they go out and play on the swingset for a while before we head home. Violet may never be a physicist, but she gets to have one for a mentor this year and understand that physics is not just a fixed body of knowledge you need to study to graduate, but a diverse and alive field populated by interesting real people.

Oh, and she’s taking an advertising class at our co-op taught by a former brand manager at another multinational, and a programming class taught by a software engineer for a major open source software company. (Of course that second one is her father.) And her former art teacher has offered her private lessons in oils.

Add to that another year of what I’ve started to consider her homeschool homeroom, Online G3, and she’s surrounded by amazing and generous adult mentors. I cannot believe how lucky we are. I know we could have put together other solutions for these classes if we had to, but I’m thrilled that

1) She’s in new surroundings where she has to push herself a little, not for a grade but to get what she came for, and

2) She’s learning that people–not just books and computers–are a great educational resource, and

3) I’m off the hook for motion in three dimensions, because two dimensions were already beyond me.

Will Victoria also homeschool for high school? The future’s unclear. But at least I don’t have to worry what I’ll do when she gets to algebra. Her interest in welding, on the other hand, worries me a little, but there’s time.

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Slowly Rounding the Corner

. . . or not.

I don’t know. I know that I feel like I’m trying to wake up after sleeping in too long, and too late. Except that there is never a too late.

Right?

There is a Kris Delmhorst version of this Rumi poem that I love. It is so like me — too silly, too serious, too many instruments playing at once, a little rough around the edges. I love it when a song seems to mirror you, not just in words but more importantly in sounds.

These words aren’t all in the poem, but I’m trying to remember them in the mornings, especially the third line:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

So I ignore the call of my office and go do something else. Anything else. As yet, I don’t know what I want to do, but I’ve made space for it all the same.

We are also all working on presence. For whatever reason, the girls seem to have a huge need to have me right there, as often as possible, or they lose their way. It’s as if we’re all a little unmoored and adrift, and somehow — well, obviously — it falls to me to bring us back. And you may say, well of course you are, you’re the mother. To which I can only say, having a responsibility hardly qualifies me to fulfill it.

But I do. It’s my new project.

We do yoga together, Victoria and I knit together, and I sit next to Violet at times when my presence seems totally unnecessary but is apparently essential.

I’ve also picked up a new book, Acedia and Me, by Kathleen Norris, whom — rightly or wrongly — I often identify with strongly. No need to read a lot into my choice of books — I’ve had this one on the list for years and finally noticed it at the bookstore. It’s the kind of book I used to read all the time and then, suddenly, stopped.

Now I’m starting again.

Lots of starting planned around here.

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Happy Camper

Arggghhh! I can’t even start this post!

This is me: 100 different thoughts going in 100 different directions, which all adds up to

paralysis.

You would think this would make me a compassionate mother to a child who acts exactly the same way. I am flattered by the way you overestimate me. 🙂

Neither mother nor oldest child is comfortable right now — both of us seem at an uncomfortable ebb in our passions, restless without something to wrestle with. I am always looking for signs of light and life to carry me through to the next day.

Today it was this:

Violet went on an overnight field trip at a local outpost of Concordia Language Villages. She had a great time, though when I asked her if she learned anything she bluntly said no — the other campers were almost all total beginners. When I asked her if she enjoyed speaking Chinese, she said she mostly spoke Chinese with the counselors. She said she was really looking forward to her regular 2-week camp, when she can be with more Chinese speakers.

She thoroughly enjoyed the other kids anyway. Another girl rode home with us — as a side note, she told us about how her attention span had shortened in school, because after the first few sentences from the teacher she would tune out, as everything afterwards was repetition. She wasn’t very happy about it. Anyway . . .

During the hour-long ride, the girls discovered that they both loved Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and spent most of the trip quoting the book together and laughing hysterically. For so many reasons it was an absolute joy to listen to. Violet also shared her new love of the Beatles — “I only really like the Revolver album; all the best songs are on that one” — and played some of her dad’s music for her friend as well.

Awake, alive, alert, present, open, joyful — it’s so hard to be all of those things all at once, at any age, at any time, with anyone. In this house of intensity, red zones, anxiety — not to mention hormones! — I don’t get to see them together as often as I’d like.

But when I do it’s like a little peek behind the veil, or a flash of the lighthouse beacon in the fog: “Ah, there it is. That’s where we’re headed. Stay the course.”

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Creating Space

Several years ago, when we moved from an apartment to a house, we had an extra dishwasher. It was a good dishwasher — better than the one that came installed in the house — but it was a freestanding dishwasher and we had no use for it.

I tried and tried to sell it, but I could get no takers. Finally, I listed it on freecycle — which was new to me then — and a very grateful person came and carried it away to a cousin who had lots of baby bottles to wash or something. Finally, no portable dishwasher in the dining room.

Later that day we were driving through the neighborhood when I saw a yard sale. Someone was selling two very cool chairs that would fit perfectly in our living room, where we had a definite furniture shortage. I was pleased — move something out, and suddenly there’s space for something better to come in.

We had a similar experience this week. We agonized and argued, but finally determined that Violet won’t take science at our co-op anymore. It’s in part a financial decision, but partly an acknowledgment that the class served more of a social purpose than an academic one. We have much cheaper ways of meeting our social needs.

Still, I want her to be studying science regularly, so I knew I would have to come up with some alternative by next fall. Lo and behold, one possibility has presented itself to me already — one that will be much better academically, and one that she is extremely excited about. I don’t know if it will work out, but I’m so pleased. We made a space, and something better came along.

To cap it off, we found some Teaching Company biology DVDs that I had purchased used and then forgotten about during the busy fall and winter — just what she needs to shore up her biology foundation before doing a new science activity. Yay! We settled in to watch the first one, and in the first few minutes she was saying, “I’m not sure I’m gonna like this . . . ” Soon afterwards, however, the professor was explaining various theories of how organic matter could have arisen in a totally inorganic environment, and she was talking back to the screen and saying “Yeah, that’s good question,” and “That’s so cool!”

And what really warmed my heart was that my little preteen girl was wearing a cape and sitting a giant box she called her boat throughout the video, sharing a bag of Cheerios with Victoria, who had packed the provisions for their sailing journey in her own laundry basket/vessel. Sweet!

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Spring Review

What are the homeschoolers of our home doing lately?

Way too much. And now we are all sick to prove it! Just bad colds, if not because we’ve run our immune system down, then because we’ve spent too much time running around swapping germs with the public this week rather than staying home now and then.

We’ve (re)learned our overscheduling lesson quickly this time, at least.

A smattering of stuff, by subject:

Math — Violet continues with Life of Fred, slowly. This is an easy thing to drop when the schedule gets too full. I try to make sure she does at lest 2-3 lessons a week, just to avoid losing the thread. She likes the graphing, and she finds Life of Fred hilarious, not so much the story but the math problems that turn out to be logic problems and thus are way simpler than they look. Victoria continues even more slowly with EPGY.

Literature — Violet finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This was a stretch for her, but the rest of Lightning Lit 9, I think, will be a little more to her liking. I give her credit — I don’t much like early American lit either. And I give Online G3 credit for keeping her interested! Victoria has picked up the Little House series again, and we are slowly reading The Moorchild together. Violet just took the National Mythology Exam and finished her Greek and Norse mythology class with Online G3. She prefers the Norse myths, for now.

Language — We’ve dropped our Magic Lens/Word Within the Word temporarily, as there are too many other things happening. We’ll pick it up when we can, because Magic Lens is one of Violet’s favorites. She just keeps begging to sign up for various activities (as many as we have, there are more than I say no too!). Victoria doesn’t do anything formal at this point, though we’re going to get back to working on penmanship, to help her do the kinds of science she wants to, with lab reports and all. (Yes, yes, I can write for her. Do you think she likes that, or do you think she finds it patronizing? Have you met her?) Oh right, and Chinese for Violet and Spanish for Victoria. Violet has also dropped German for now.

Science — In addition to our regular co-op, in which both girls are focusing on life science/human body, we’re doing an extra class at our newer co-op. Violet is doing rocket science, which I am very excited about. It has a lot of applied math and science, and a lot of geeky-mathy boys to keep her on her toes. Can’t just sit back and dominate through verbal ability. Plus, building rockets! Victoria is in a Lego engineering class at the same time, and can’t wait to start making things move.

Music — We’re enjoying Discovering Music with Professor Carol, with the help of Online G3. Victoria drifts in and out of the room during the videos, but she listens to the CDs with Violet and me. Don’t know if it is related, but Violet is really alert to the music around her recently — just got her a new Debussy CD she wanted, and a cool contemporary piece called Blackberry Winter. Violet is insisting that she wants to keep up with voice lessons, but I sense they are going to go on hiatus. Piano is ever present with both girls, and this year Violet is back in the running for the MMTA honors concert — finals coming up in a couple of weeks! Both girls have also started learning guitar.

History — another thing that pops up on days that we’re actually home for a couple of hours. Mostly reading together, and finding things on the map. We’re still stuck in the BCs, creeping towards Rome. Already discussed Romulus and Remus. Wondering if I should just save Rome till we’ve done with some of this other stuff that is taking up all our time. Victoria is also doing a parent-led geography class at co-op — in part just because Violet is doing a drama class at the same time.

Other fun stuff:
Chess for Victoria.
Knitting class at a local Waldorf store for two more weeks with Victoria.
Art at co-op for both girls — lately there have been Sumi Ink paintings and Native American sandpainting.

In truth, we’ve lost a little of the flow and heart of homeschooling in this mix. Too much busyness, not enough daydreaming. But its all Good Stuff, and the flow is still there, calmly waiting for us to return.

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Wish Us Luck

Quick post — I am taking the girls skiing for the first time. What am I thinking? I can barely stand up on the floor!

I am half afraid they’ll break their necks, half afraid they’ll love it and we’ll have found a sport even more time-consuming and expensive than hockey (which is a big time/money sucker in my neighborhood).

Somehow we have gotten back to a packed schedule:

Online classes Monday and Tuesday, swim-and-gym for the little one on Tuesday, co-ops Wednesday and Thursday, piano lessons Thursday, voice lessons Friday, piano and guitar Saturday, mass and Sunday school on Sunday. I try to tell myself that they still have more free time than the public school kid doing sports and other extracurriculars, but it feels like too much.

Argghh! Will I never break this habit of overscheduling?! Sadly, my oldest really does seems to thrive on being overscheduled, probably because she is often understimulated. And she hasn’t been in a play for a year — drama classes, yes, but no plays.

Some days I think my learning curve is more of a learning circle, and just as I start to make major progress I flip back around to the beginning.

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